Situated at the crossroads of the ancient and modern world, Istanbul is heir to a host of cultures. The winds that blow across Europe and Asia have carried many musical traditions to Istanbul, mixing together Byzantine, Turkish, Arabic, Sephardic, Roma, and Greek styles. In more recent times, classical music, jazz, opera, rock, hip-hop, and electronic music have found their own niches. But some of Istanbul’s most evocative music is about the city itself – the seven hills and beautiful waters that have inspired countless writers, painters, and musicians in myriad different ways.
Levent Yüksel: “Istanbul”
Singer, songwriter, and musician Levent Yüksel speaks to the city as yearning lover, saying, “Like a woman, like a mare, come let me hold your slender waist, my love Istanbul, let me kiss your neck.”
Münir Nurettin Selçuk: “Aziz İstanbul”
Coming from the Turkish classical tradition, this song glorifies the city with the words, “Many sparkling cities are seen in the world, but you are the one that creates its enchanting beauty.”
İncesaz: “Üsküdar’a gider iken”
This song describes an affair between a high-society lady and a clerk as they travel to Üsküdar, on Istanbul’s Asian shore. She expresses her affection by handing him a piece of lokum (Turkish delight) in a handkerchief.
Dario Moreno: “İstanbul’un Kızları”
Turkish-Sephardic singer Dario Moreno was popular in both Turkey and France, where he had a successful singing and acting career. In this song he extols the beauty of Istanbul’s women, saying, “If you know how sweet Istanbul girls are, they’ll pull you to them from afar.”
Sezen Aksu: “İstanbul İstanbul Olalı”
One of Turkey’s most popular and influential stars sings this song of tragic love. In the chorus Aksu laments, “Since Istanbul has been Istanbul, it has never seen this kind of fate. I am dying of your love, with no trace of pride left.”
Teoman: “Istanbul’da sonbahar”
Rock singer Teoman explores the city’s melancholy side in the context of a troubled relationship. “Istanbul is tired today, sad and aged, she’s gained some weight and cried again, her mascara is running,” he sings.
Turkish ska band Athena, who represented the country in 2004’s Eurovision Song Contest, wrote this song about the lively Beyoğlu neighborhood. “You wander around Beyoğlu, you make sultry eyes, my love, my baby, why would you make me sad?” asks Athena, doubtless drawing on personal experience.
View our playlist: Top 7 songs about Istanbul on Spotify.